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I met Dona Esther by accident, an old friend of my mother’s, at one of those watering-hole resorts where I was spending a short spell. Despite her seventy-some-odd years, I found her to be hale and hearty and even somewhat loquacious, as in the old times. Pleased to see me, she riddled me with questions about the family, wanting to know about everything. At her invitation we sat down in front of a large drinking fountain on that late afternoon, and for at least an hour, I stayed listening to her. I must say that few people possess Dona Esther ’s knowledge about events that take place within our community. What she doesn’t know, nobody knows. I don’t exactly remember what caused her to begin the story that made such an impression on me and which I will try to summarize here, using more or less her own words. I believe it was when she happened to mention the city of Safed, where she was born, the one which, besides being a mystical city, cradle of the cabala, is also recognized for the quality of its pure mountain air. ‘In general the inhabitants of Safed are not happy when they leave to reside in other centers,’ Dona Esther told me. ‘For example that was the case with the Lilenblum family. Did you know that they come from Safed?’ I admitted not only that I was unaware of that fact but that I didn’t know a lot about that family. She showed surprise. Between one gulp or another of mineral water, which she patiently gathered into a small plastic cup, she then told me the odyssey of that family whom she had known since she was a little girl. ‘Well,theelderAzrielChoihet,thepatriarchoftheLilenblum,enjoyed a high reputation in Safed, alongside our rebbe. In fact, everybody over there respected him as an erudite scholar. Just imagine, that kind of esteem from a city like Safed. In order for you to have an idea Eliezer Levin The Seed from Safed 154 eliezer levin who he was, even the rebbe himself didn’t hesitate to consult him whenever he had doubts about some complicated issues related to our religious laws. In that sense Azriel Choihet had a golden head, a logical mind capable of deciphering any halakhah, no matter how difficult it might be. He would have been a genius of a legal counselor, my father (may he be with G——d) used to say, if he had followed that career. But above all Azriel Choihet was a humble man, devout and a conscientious observer of Jewish law, in accordance with the traditions deeply rooted in the men of our city. ‘Who would have imagined, then, that his eldest son, Betzalel, one day had to leave Safed and depart for the Americas? Many others , pressured by the misery of those times of English rule, needed to emigrate. By coincidence he and my father, with their respective families, journeyed together on the same ship. Here in São Paulo they maintained a long friendship, even though in time Betzalel Lilenblum ended up following a more liberal lifestyle, diverging on this issue from my father. ‘To prove how much a seed from Safed is unhappy and suffers when being transplanted to other terrains, I am going to tell you the experience that happened to him a few years later. During the time of the Second World War, scarce was the news we received about relatives who had stayed behind on the other side of the world, especially from our small city of Safed. Therefore, when my father learned about the death of the elder Azriel Choihet, he was upset, and the first thing he did was to direct himself to his friend’s house. To his astonishment and shock, instead of finding him sitting shivah, as Jewish law dictates , he found him behind his desk, busy with work. Betzalel came out with this remark: I am not sitting shivah for my father, because I am not worthy of him! . . . That’s how it is! The seed from Safed was deteriorating! ‘Years passed and Betzalel’s oldest son, Alexander, whom we knew as Senderl, graduated from the São Francisco Law School. Although young, in little time he distinguished himself as one of the most brilliant criminal lawyers in the courts. The newspapers reported his accomplishments. In dealing with the law, he had the same logical mind as his grandfather...


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